The Burton Blog

Bad Weather, Great Times: Jessa Gilbert's Iceland Travel Journal

by Jessa Gilbert

I’ve always had a hard time with that phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.”

I’ve had some amazing days on my board with bad weather AND bad gear (I grew up riding in New York in duck boots, jeans and a Starter jacket).

Sure, a day outside can be drastically improved with great weather and great gear, but I think it’s possible to have both. Bad weather can be made worse with bad gear, and bad gear can make mild weather challenging. Regardless the weather or the gear, there is always a choice. The choice always comes down to ‘go or don’t go’. The benefit to going is that you may be pleasantly surprised.

So, in looking at the weather forecast for Iceland last Spring, I decided to look beyond the “very likely raining to the top” forecast and go for it.

Why, you may ask, would you go somewhere that may end up being a total bust? Well, who’s to say the forecast wouldn’t end up being ideal? After all, a few degrees difference in temperature could mean a blower pow day. Fortunately this trip had every other aspect of a good shred mission:a fun crew, a thirst for travel, and some fresh waterproofing.


Day 1

My flight arrived in Reykjavik early in the morning. Bleary-eyed, I plopped myself down with my body-sized board bag at the terminal coffee shop, trying to decide if now would be a good time to indulge in the dried herring I kept seeing on the welcome signage. I opted out and instead slept on top of my baggage while I waited for Alex Adrian and Jesse Dawson to join in on the jet lag.

They arrived dwarfed by their own luggage with a keen eye towards getting some caffeine and our rental car. Do we need 4WD? Will we fit in this van with all our gear and with Kam, who we were meeting down the island at some distant fjorden town I can’t pronounce? I had no brainpower to be part of the decision. We, really they, opted for the larger rig, and we took off down the highway, hoping we were taking the short way around the island to our destination. I drifted in and out of sleep while Alex drifted in and out of pull-offs to take photos and look for wild horses, each time exclaiming, “We’re here!” (He got me every time.)


We drove through all sorts of weather along the coast–rain, wind, snow, sunshine, hail, you name it. We were optimistic after getting news from Kam that he and the team at Viking Heli, where he had worked the last three months, had been riding pow all day! We just needed to get there.

We made it to our home in Siglufjörður, a small village that had been Kam’s home the last few months. (Fun, not so fun fact: This town used to be one of the top producing Herring fisheries in Iceland… until the 70s, when they fished the Herring clear out of residence in their local waters. There’s a beautiful museum that showcases this history within the town that’s worth checking out).

After a quick shower, weather check, and a massive splaying of gear, then it was straight to bed.


Day 2

I awoke the next day to the sound of snow on the roof!… Or wait, snow is quiet on the roof… I opened the curtains to see low-hanging clouds and rain coming down in sheets. The mountains aren’t very high in this area, so that meant this rain at the base was rain all the way up. I felt deflated. It’s tough when you put all this effort into getting somewhere, line up the right people, pick the right gear, but you’re still at the mercy of getting what you get. As I pondered the conditions, I shifted my attention to the local school kids going ham on their playground, not seeming to notice the rain, gale-force wind, or frigid temperatures. “Challenge accepted,” I thought to myself.

That’s the beauty of kids. They’re optimistic by nature and play time shan’t be interrupted by a bit of rain. That’s how it was back in the Catskills, where I had the ‘best days ever’ learning how to snowboard in my jeans in the rain. No bad weather, just bad attitudes. Bundle up, and let’s go… So we followed their snotty nose lead.

The rain eventually stopped, but it had done its damage and turned yesterday’s pow into today’s sticky slop. We went sniffing for snow anyway and soon discovered the rain had at least one redeeming property: it can turn ice into carvable slush!


Kam and I eyed up a fun-looking couloir above the neighboring fjord to boot up and set our sights on taking turns there down to the ocean. The snow felt good underfoot on the approach, going from skins to boots to crampons. We transitioned over at the top, took in the vast sights of endless mountain ribs, ro-sham-bo’d for first drop (Kam won), and made our way down towards the ocean below, one after the other. And you know what? It may not have been pow, but it was SO fun–fast, springtime snow! We laughed at how good the conditions were.

“Okay, once we get to the ocean, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the van,” Kam assured us as we squinted to see the van parked back at the head of fjord. 10 minutes later, he said it again, and 10 minutes after that, and once or twice more after that. We laughed at this beautiful 10-minute-turned-hour march along the fjord, hopping between patches of tall grass and miniature cascading waterfalls. We were in no rush since the sun wouldn’t really set at all that night anyway.

We finally made it to the van and cruised back to town to pile into one of the few restaurants open during the winter. I scanned the menu, wondering what would come out if I ordered “Fish Balls.”


Day 3

The next day was forecasted to be variable but dry, which was entirely inaccurate, seeing as we woke to more rain and even less visibility. “I wonder what the local kids are up to this morning”, I thought as I heard them playing again at their school across the street. I overheard one of them say, “I like your dance moves.” To my absolute delight, I looked down to see a man all in yellow dancing in the center of the street to Lizzo. That man was Kam, bringing a vibe as bright as his kit.

Understanding the fjords can have their own microclimate for weather, we decided to gamble and drive further down the coast where, worst case scenario, there were pubs and surf. Neither would be necessary, as the skies were blue after just a short drive. Iceland–if you don’t like the weather, just wait or walk.

We threw skins on our boards and SPF onto our noses and started to march uphill. A beautiful day in the sun above the ocean, overlooking horses with the best hair scattered around pastures everywhere. We even spotted whales from our approach! Not exactly the type of scenery you get in North America. It was hard to imagine how the day before had been so soggy, given how the sun was packing a considerable punch. Delirious from fish balls and a lack of sleep, we sang our way up the skin track to the beat of Lizzo and manufactured lyrics mostly based around “board’n fjorden.”

Our departure was a drive back to Reykjavik full of laughter, ‘would you rather games, and storytelling from all parties, sandwiched between our gear. We passed around the world’s largest bag of popcorn and wondered aloud if the ‘local beef burger’ advertised in each town was, in fact horse, given the fact we saw 1 cow to every thousand horses on our drive. We laughed from the joy of travel, first experiences, and the fun afforded from standing sideways.


We had objectively bad weather this trip, which could have left us feeling skunked. Maybe that’s the challenge of chasing pow. You want the best conditions and the feeling of soft snow underfoot rather than the piercing sting of sleet on your face in the wind. Aside from a comedic attempt at photographing the stormy seas, I recall being dry, comfortable, and ecstatic to be spending time in the mountains with my friends. I think we would all agree at the end of the trip, there were colorful memories born from boarding with buds in the arctic circle.